Designing Active Cognitive Tasks for Enhanced Learning

In the modern era of education, merely providing content to students is not enough. Recognition of this fact has led to the growing prominence of designing active cognitive tasks that promote an in-depth learning experience. Below, we summarise insights into the essence of these tasks and how they make the learning process more effective and engaging.

Defining Active Learning

Active learning goes beyond simply understanding or memorising content. The core concept revolves around students actively participating in and completing higher-order thinking tasks and reflecting on what they’re doing. It emphasises independent work, class interaction, and linking the two in a meaningful way.

Components of Active Cognitive Task

  1. Active: Students should own their learning process, taking responsibility with mutual trust and agency. They control what they learn.
  2. Cognitive: This refers to the thinking part, such as constructing mental schemas, reinforcing connections, and effortful learning.
  3. Task: Students must carry out a task, not merely absorb information.

Frameworks for Active Learning

  1. ICAP Model: The ICAP model by Micheline Chi categorises active learning into interactive, constructive, and active. It illustrates that interactive learning provides greater learning gain.
  2. Bloom’s Taxonomy: This helps to gauge higher-order thinking. Activities should move beyond just understanding and remembering to analysing, evaluating, creating, or synthesising.
  3. ABC Learning Design: Based on Diana Laurillard’s model, it involves six types of learning: acquisition, collaboration, discussion, investigation, practice, and production.

Turning Passive Learning into Active

The challenge in active learning is to turn the typical passive engagement, such as watching a video or reading an article, into an active cognitive task. This can be achieved by explicitly telling students what to do during a lecture or while reading, such as defining key terms, finding real-world examples, or evaluating arguments.

Practical Examples

A seminar series on teaching was used to illustrate how to implement active cognitive tasks. Students were given preparation tasks, followed by live interaction and discussions. During the seminars, worksheets and collaborative platforms like Google Docs were used to foster engagement.

These seminars resulted in more balanced contributions, deeper engagement, and concrete evidence of enhanced learning among participants.

Concluding Insights

The notion of active cognitive tasks in education is not just a trend but a necessity. Designing these tasks requires educators to step beyond traditional methods and think creatively about how to engage students actively in their learning process. The tangible results seen in active learning environments underscore the importance of this pedagogical shift, benefiting both students and educators in developing a more dynamic and responsive learning experience.

This post summarises a lecture by Mary Jacob on Designing Active Cognitive Tasks to promote learning, hosted by Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars at the University of Kent. The lecture is available on YouTube.

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Amir-Homayoun Javadi

Amir-Homayoun Javadi, PhD

Founder and CEO at 0&1 LTD